A common neural code for social and monetary rewards in the human striatum

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Oct 1;12(10):1558-1564. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx092.


Although managing social information and decision making on the basis of reward is critical for survival, it remains uncertain whether differing reward type is processed in a uniform manner. Previously, we demonstrated that monetary reward and the social reward of good reputation activated the same striatal regions including the caudate nucleus and putamen. However, it remains unclear whether overlapping activations reflect activities of identical neuronal populations or two overlapping but functionally independent neuronal populations. Here, we re-analyzed the original data and addressed this question using multivariate-pattern-analysis and found evidence that in the left caudate nucleus and bilateral nucleus accumbens, social vs monetary reward were represented similarly. The findings suggest that social and monetary rewards are processed by the same population of neurons within these regions of the striatum. Additional findings demonstrated similar neural patterns when participants experience high social reward compared to viewing others receiving low social reward (potentially inducing schadenfreude). This is possibly an early indication that the same population of neurons may be responsible for processing two different types of social reward (good reputation and schadenfreude). These findings provide a supplementary perspective to previous research, helping to further elucidate the mechanisms behind social vs non-social reward processing.

Keywords: MVPA; fMRI; monetary reward; schadenfreude; social reward; striatum.

MeSH terms

  • Caudate Nucleus / cytology
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology
  • Motivation*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Putamen / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Social Environment*
  • Young Adult